Friday, January 19, 6503
Sophocles (c. 497-405 BC) - Drama and Music
Sophocles (c. 497/496 BC- winter 406/405 BC) was the second of the three ancient Greek tragedians whose work has survived. His first plays were written later than those of Aeschylus and earlier than those of Euripides. According to the Suda, a 10th-century encyclopedia, Sophocles wrote 123 plays during the course of his life, but only seven have survived in a complete form: Ajax, Antigone, Trachinian Women, Oedipus the King, Electra, Philoctetes, and Oedipus at Colonus.
For almost 50 years, Sophocles was the most-awarded playwright in the dramatic competitions of the city-state of Athens that took place during the religious festivals of the Lenaea and the Dionysia. Sophocles competed in around 30 competitions; he won perhaps 24 and never received lower than second place; in comparison, Aeschylus won 14 competitions and was defeated by Sophocles at times, while Euripides won only 4 competitions.
The most famous of Sophocles' tragedies are those concerning Oedipus and Antigone: these are often known as the Theban plays, although each play was actually a part of different tetralogy, the other members of which are now lost. Sophocles influenced the development of the drama, most importantly by adding a third actor and thereby reducing the importance of the chorus in the presentation of the plot. He also developed his characters to a greater extent than earlier playwrights such as Aeschylus.
Sophocles, the son of Sophillus, was a wealthy member of the rural deme (small community) of Colonus Hippius in Attica, which would later become a setting for his plays, and was probably born there.
His birth took place a few years before the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC: the exact year is unclear, although 497/496 is perhaps most likely.
Sophocles' first artistic triumph was in 468 BC when he took first prize in the Dionysia theatre competition over the reigning master of Athenian drama, Aeschylus.
According to Plutarch the victory came under unusual circumstances. Instead of following the custom of choosing judges by lot, the archon asked Cimon and the other strategoi present to decide the victor of the contest. Plutarch further contends that Aeschylus soon left for Sicily following this loss to Sophocles.
Although Plutarch says that this was Sophocles's first production, it is now thought that this is an embellishment of the truth and that his first production was most likely in 470 BC.
Triptolemus was probably one of the plays that Sophocles presented at this festival.
Sophocles became a man of importance in the public halls of Athens as well as in the theatres. Sophocles was chosen to lead the paean, a choral chant to a god, at the age of 16 celebrating the decisive Greek sea victory over the Persians at the Battle of Salamis. This rather insufficient information about Sophocles’ civic life implies he was a well-liked man who participated in activities in society and showed remarkable artistic ability. He was also elected as one of ten strategoi, high executive officials that commanded the armed forces, as a junior colleague of Pericles. Sophocles was born extremely wealthy (his father was a wealthy armour manufacturer) and was highly educated throughout his entire life. Early in his career, the politician Cimon might have been one of his patrons, although if he was there was no ill will borne by Pericles, Cimon's rival, when Cimon was ostracized in 461 BC.
In 443/442 he served as one of the Hellenotamiai, or treasurers of Athena, helping to manage the finances of the city during the political ascendancy of Pericles.
According to the Vita Sophoclis he served as a general in the Athenian campaign against Samos, which had revolted in 441 BC; he was supposed to have been elected to his post as the result of his production of Antigone.
In 420 he welcomed and set up an altar for the icon of Asclepius at his house, when the deity was introduced in Athens. For this he was given the posthumous epithet Dexion (receiver) by the Athenians.
He was also elected, in 413 BC, to be one of the commissioners crafting a response to the catastrophic destruction of the Athenian expeditionary force in Sicily during the Peloponnesian War.
Sophocles died at the age of ninety or ninety-one in the winter of 406/5 BC, having seen within his lifetime both the Greek triumph in the Persian Wars and the terrible bloodletting of the Peloponnesian War.
As with many famous men in classical antiquity, Sophocles' death inspired a number of apocryphal stories about the cause. Perhaps the most famous is the suggestion that he died from the strain of trying to recite a long sentence from his Antigone without pausing to take a breath; another account suggests he choked while eating grapes at the Anthesteria festival in Athens. A third account holds that he died of happiness after winning his final victory at the City Dionysia.
A few months later, the comic poet wrote this eulogy in his play titled The Muses: "Blessed is Sophocles, who had a long life, was a man both happy and talented, and the writer of many good tragedies; and he ended his life well without suffering any misfortune."
This is somewhat ironic, for according to some accounts his own sons tried to have him declared incompetent near the end of his life; he is said to have refuted their charge in court by reading from his as yet unproduced Oedipus at Colonus.
Both Iophon, one of his sons, and a grandson, also called Sophocles, followed in his footsteps to become playwrights.
It was common in fifth-century Greece for men of the upper classes to cultivate sexual relationships with adolescent boys. Sophocles was one such participant in the relationship between the erastês ("lover") and eromenos ("beloved")
Athenaeus reports two stories of this kind, one, if authentic, from a contemporary: a symposium in which Sophocles cleverly steals a kiss from the boy sitting next to him, and another in which Sophocles entices a young boy to have sex outside the walls of Athens, and the boy takes Sophocles' cloak.
According to Plutarch, when he caught Sophocles admiring a young boy's looks, Pericles rebuked him for neglecting his duty as a strategos.
Sophocles's sexual appetite reportedly lasted well into old age. In The Republic (1.329b-329c) Plato tells us that when he finally succumbed to impotence, Sophocles was glad to be free of his "raging and savage beast of a master."
In yet another such account, a satirical one by Machon involving a hetaira known for her ironical sense of humor, we are told that, "Demophon, Sophocles's minion, when still a youth had Nico, already old and surnamed the she-goat; they say she had very fine buttocks. One day he begged of her to lend them to him. 'Very well,' she said with a smile, "Take from me, dear, what you give to Sophocles.'"
Among Sophocles' earliest innovations was the addition of a third actor, which further reduced the role of the chorus and created greater opportunity for character development and conflict between characters
Aeschylus, who dominated Athenian playwrighting during Sophocles' early career, followed suit and adopted the third character into his own work towards the end of his life.
Aristotle credits Sophocles with the introduction of skenographia, or scenery-painting. It was not until after the death of the old master Aeschylus in 456 BC that Sophocles became the pre-eminent playwright in Athens.
Thereafter, Sophocles emerged victorious in dramatic competitions at 18 Dionysia and 6 Lenaia festivals.
In addition to innovations in dramatic structure, Sophocles' work is also known for its deeper development of characters than earlier playwrights.
His reputation was such that foreign rulers invited him to attend their courts, although unlike Aeschylus who died in Sicily, or Euripides who spent time in Macedon, Sophocles never accepted any of these invitations.
Aristotle used Sophocles's Oedipus the King in his Poetics (c. 335 BC) as an example of the highest achievement in tragedy, which suggests the high esteem in which his work was held by later Greeks.
Only two of the seven surviving plays can be dated securely: Philoctetes (409 BC) and Oedipus at Colonus (401 BC, staged after Sophocles' death by his grandson). Of the others, Electra shows stylistic similarities to these two plays, which suggests that it was probably written in the latter part of his career. Ajax, Antigone, and The Trachiniae are generally thought to be among his early works, again based on stylistic elements, with Oedipus the King coming in Sophocles' middle period. Most of Sophocles' plays show an undercurrent of early fatalism and the beginnings of Socratic logic as a mainstay for the long tradition of Greek tragedy.
The Theban plays consist of Oedipus the King (also called Oedipus Tyrannus or Oedipus Rex), Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone. All three plays concern the fate of Thebes during and after the reign of King Oedipus
They have often been published under a single cover.
Sophocles, however, wrote the three plays for separate festival competitions, many years apart. Not only are the Theban plays not a true trilogy (three plays presented as a continuous narrative) but they are not even an intentional series and contain some inconsistencies between them.
He also wrote other plays having to do with Thebes, such as The Progeny, of which only fragments have survived.
Each of the plays relates to the tale of the mythological Oedipus, who killed his father and married his mother without knowledge that they were his parents. His family is fated to be doomed for three generations.
In Oedipus the King, the titular character is the protagonist. He becomes the ruler of Thebes after solving the riddle of the sphinx. Before solving this riddle, Oedipus had met at a crossroads a man accompanied by servants; Oedipus and the man fought, and Oedipus killed the man. Oedipus continued on to Thebes to marry the widowed Queen, who was, unknown to him, his mother. Oedipus eventually learns that his mother and father gave him up when he was just an infant in fear that he would kill his father and fulfill the Delphic Oracle's prophecy of him. Upon learning of the completed prophecy, his mother, Jocasta, realizes the incest and commits suicide; Oedipus, in horror of what he has seen, blinds himself and leaves Thebes. The couple had four children, who figure in the remaining plays of the set.
In Oedipus at Colonus, the banished Oedipus and his daughters Antigone and Ismene arrive at the town of Colonus where they encounter Theseus, King of Athens. Oedipus dies and strife begins between his sons Polyneices and Eteocles.
In Antigone the protagonist is Oedipus's younger daughter, who is faced with the choice of allowing her brother Polyneices's body to remain unburied, outside the city walls, exposed to the ravages of wild animals, or to bury him and face death. The king of the land, her uncle Creon, has forbidden the burial of Polyneices for he was a traitor to the city. Antigone decides to bury his body and face the consequences of her actions. Creon sentences her to death. Eventually, Creon is convinced to free Antigone from her punishment, but his decision comes too late and Antigone commits suicide. Her suicide triggers the suicide of two others close to King Creon: his son, Haemon, who was to wed Antigone, and his wife who commits suicide after losing her only surviving son.
The plays were written across 36years of Sophocles's career and were not composed in chronological order, but instead were written in the order Antigone, Oedipus the King, and Oedipus at Colonus. As a result, there are some inconsistencies: notably, Creon is the undisputed king at the end of Oedipus the King and, in consultation with Apollo, single-handedly makes the decision to expel Oedipus from Thebes. Creon is also instructed to look after Oedipus's daughters Antigone and Ismene at the end of Oedipus the King. By contrast, in the other plays there is some struggle with Oedipus's sons Eteocles and Polynices in regards to the succession. In Oedipus at Colonus, Sophocles attempts to work these inconsistencies into a coherent whole: Ismene explains that, in light of their tainted family lineage, her brothers were at first willing to cede the throne to Creon. Nevertheless, they eventually decided to take charge of the monarchy, with each brother disputing the other's right to succeed. In addition to being in a clearly more powerful position in Oedipus at Colonus, Eteocles and Polynices are also culpable: they condemn their father to exile, which is one of his bitterest charges against them.
Other than the three Theban plays, there are four surviving plays by Sophocles: Ajax, The Trachiniae, Electra, and Philoctetes, the last of which won first prize.
Ajax focuses on the prideful hero of the Trojan War, Telamonian Ajax, who is driven to treachery and eventually suicide. Ajax becomes gravely upset when Achilles’ armor is presented to Odysseus instead of himself. Despite their enmity toward him, Odysseus persuades the kings Menelaus and Agamemnon to grant Ajax a proper burial.
The Trachiniae (named for the Trachinian women who make up the chorus) dramatizes Deianeira's accidentally killing Heracles after he had completed his famous twelve labors. Tricked into thinking it is a love charm, Deianeira applies poison to an article of Heracles' clothing; this poisoned robe causes Heracles to die an excruciating death. Upon learning the truth, Deianeira commits suicide.
Electra corresponds roughly to the plot of Aeschylus's Libation Bearers. It details Electra and Orestes's avenging their father Agamemnon's murder by Clytemnestra and Aegisthus.
Philoctetes retells the story of Philoctetes, an archer who had been abandoned on Lemnos by the rest of the Greek fleet while on the way to Troy. After learning that they cannot win the Trojan War without Philoctetes' bow, the Greeks send Odysseus and Neoptolemus to retrieve him; due to the Greeks' earlier treachery, however, Philoctetes refuses to rejoin the army. It is only Heracles's deus ex machina appearance that persuades Philoctetes to go to Troy.
There is a passage of Plutarch's tract De Profectibus in Virtute 7 in which Sophocles discusses his own growth as a writer. A likely source of this material for Plutarch was the Epidemiae of Ion of Chios, a book that recorded many conversations of Sophocles. This book is a likely candidate to have contained Sophocles's discourse on his own development because Ion was a friend of Sophocles, and the book is known to have been used by Plutarch.
Though some interpretations of Plutarch's words suggest that Sophocles says that he imitated Aeschylus, the translation does not fit grammatically, nor does the interpretation that Sophocles said that he was making fun of Aeschylus' works. C. M. Bowra argues for the following translation of the line: "After practising to the full the bigness of Aeschylus, then the painful ingenuity of my own invention, now in the third stage I am changing to the kind of diction which is most expressive of character and best."
Here Sophocles says that he has completed a stage of Aeschylus's work, meaning that he went through a phase of imitating Aeschylus' style but is finished with that. Sophocles' opinion of Aeschylus was mixed. He certainly respected him enough to imitate his work early on in his career, but he had reservations about Aeschylus's style, and thus did not keep his imitation up. Sophocles's first stage, in which he imitated Aeschylus, is marked by "Aeschylean pomp in the language."
Sophocles's second stage was entirely his own. He introduced new ways of evoking feeling out of an audience, like in his Ajax when he is mocked by Athene, then the stage is emptied so that he may commit suicide alone.
Sophocles mentions a third stage, distinct from the other two, in his discussion of his development. The third stage pays more heed to diction. His characters spoke in a way that was more natural to them and more expressive of their individual character feelings.
Music based on Sophocles includes
Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) - Oedipus Rex (1927)
Carl Orff (1895-1982) - Antigone (1949), Oedipus der Tyrann (1959)
Frederic Rzewski (b. 1938) - Antigone
Mark Alburger - Antigone (2000)
Euripides (ca. 480 BC - 406 BC) was the last of the three great tragedians of classical Athens (the other two being Aeschylus and Sophocles). Ancient scholars thought that Euripides had written ninety-five plays, although four of those were probably written by Critias. Eighteen or nineteen of Euripides' plays have survived complete. There has been debate about his authorship of Rhesus, largely on stylistic grounds and ignoring classical evidence that the play was his.
Fragments, some substantial, of most of the other plays also survive. More of his plays have survived than those of Aeschylus and Sophocles together, because of the unique nature of the Euripidean manuscript tradition.
Euripides is known primarily for having reshaped the formal structure of Athenian tragedy by portraying strong female characters and intelligent slaves and by satirizing many heroes of Greek mythology. His plays seem modern by comparison with those of his contemporaries, focusing on the inner lives and motives of his characters in a way previously unknown to Greek audiences.
Little is known about Euripides, and most recorded sources are based on legend and hearsay. According to one legend, Euripides was born in Salamís on 23 September 480 BC, the day of the Persian War's greatest naval battle. Other sources estimate that he was born as early as 485 BC.
His father's name was either Mnesarchus or Mnesarchides and his mother's name was Cleito.
Evidence suggests that the family was wealthy and influential. It is recorded that he served as a cup-bearer for Apollo's dancers, but he grew to question the religion he grew up with, exposed as he was to thinkers such as Protagoras, Socrates, and Anaxagoras.
He was married twice, to Choerile and Melito, though sources disagree as to which woman he married first.
He had three sons and it is rumored that he also had a daughter who was killed after a rabid dog attacked her (some say this was merely a joke made by Aristophanes, who often poked fun at Euripides). The record of Euripides's public life, other than his involvement in dramatic competitions, is almost non-existent. The only reliable story of note is one by Aristotle about Euripides' involvement in a dispute over a liturgy (an account that offers strong evidence that Euripides was a wealthy man). It has been said that he traveled to Syracuse, Sicily; that he engaged in various public or political activities during his lifetime; that he wrote his tragedies in a sanctuary, The Cave of Euripides on Salamis Island; and that he left Athens at the invitation of King Archelaus I of Macedon and stayed with him in Macedonia and allegedly died there in 406 B.C. after being accidentally attacked by the king's hunting dogs while walking in the woods. According to Pausanias, Euripides was buried in Macedonia.
Euripides first competed in the City Dionysia, the famous Athenian dramatic festival, in 455 BC, one year after the death of Aeschylus. He came third, reportedly because he refused to cater to the fancies of the judges. It was not until 441 BC that he won first prize and over the course of his lifetime Euripides claimed only four victories. He also won a posthumous victory.
He was a frequent target of Aristophanes's humor. He appears as a character in The Acharnians, Thesmophoriazusae, and most memorably in The Frogs (where Dionysus travels to Hades to bring Euripides back from the dead; after a competition of poetry, the god opts to bring Aeschylus instead).
Euripides's final competition in Athens was in 408 BC; there is a story that he left Athens embittered over his defeats. He accepted an invitation by the king of Macedon in 408 or 407 BC, and once there he wrote Archelaus in honour of his host. He is believed to have died there in winter 407/6 BC; ancient biographers have told many stories about his death, but the simple truth was that it was probably his first exposure to the harsh Macedonia winter which killed him.
The Bacchae was performed after his death in 405 BCE and won first prize.
In comparison with Aeschylus (who won 13 times) and Sophocles (who had 18 victories) Euripides was the least honored of the three, at least in his lifetime. Later in the 4th century BC, Euripides's plays became the most popular, largely because of the simplicity of their language.
His works influenced New Comedy and Roman drama, and were later idolized by the French classicists; his influence on drama extends to modern times.
Euripides's greatest works include Alcestis, Medea, Trojan Women, and The Bacchae. Also considered notable is Cyclops, the only complete satyr play to have survived.
While the seven plays each of Aeschylus and Sophocles that have survived were those considered their best, the manuscript containing Euripides's plays was part of a multiple volume, alphabetically-arranged collection of the playwrights works, rediscovered after lying in a monastic collection for approximately 800 years. The manuscript contains those plays whose (Greek) titles begin with the letters E to K. This accounts for the large number of extant plays of Euripides (among ancient dramatists, only Plautus has more surviving plays), the survival of a satyr play, and the absence of a trilogy. It is a testament to the quality of Euripides's plays that, though their survival was dependent on the letter their title began with and not (as with Aeschylus and Sophocles) their quality, they are ranked alongside and often above the plays of Aeschylus and Sophocles.
In June 2005, classicists at Oxford University worked on a joint project with Brigham Young University, using multi-spectral imaging technology to recover previously illegible writing (see References). Some of this work employed infrared technology -- previously used for satellite imaging -- to detect previously unknown material by Euripides in fragments of the Oxyrhynchus papyri, a collection of ancient manuscripts held by the university.
Euripides focused on the realism of his characters; for example, Euripides’s Medea is a realistic woman with recognizable emotions and is not simply a villain. In Hippolytus, Euripides writes in a particularly modern style, demonstrating how neither language nor sight aids in understanding in a civilization on its last leg. Euripides makes his point about vision both through the plot (Phaedra makes repeated references to her inability to see clearly and her wish to have her eyes covered), and through the sparseness of his staging, which lacked the dazzling elements that other plays often had. The same was true of his commentary on the use of language. The misuse of words played an important role in the storyline (Phaedra's letter, the nurse's betrayal of Phaedra's secret, Hippolytus' refusal to break his oath to save his own life, and his refusal to pay lip-service to Aphrodite), but in addition, the actual language of the play was often purposefully verbose and ungainly, again to show the ineffectual nature of language in comprehension in Euripides's age.
According to Aristotle, Euripides's contemporary Sophocles said that he portrayed men as they ought to be, and Euripides portrayed them as they were.
Euripides's realistic characterisations were sometimes at the expense of a realistic plot; he sometimes relied upon the deus ex machina to resolve his plays, as in Ion and Electra. In the opinion of Aristotle, writing his Poetics a century later, this is an inadequate way to end a play.
Many classicists cite this as a reason why Euripides was less popular in his own time.
Tragedies / later settings by composers)
Alcestis (438 BCE, second prize) / G.F. Handel / Laurie Anderson
Medea (431 BCE, third prize) / Samuel Barber
Heracleidae (c. 430 BCE)
Hippolytus (428 BCE, first prize)
Andromache (c. 425 BCE) / Samuel Barber
Hecuba (c. 424 BCE)
The Suppliants (c. 423 BCE)
Electra (c. 420 BCE) / Richard Strauss
Heracles (c. 416 BCE) / G.F. Handel
The Trojan Women (415 BCE, second prize)
Iphigenia in Tauris (c. 414 BCE) / C.W. Gluck
Ion (c. 414 BCE)
Helen (412 BCE)
Phoenician Women (c. 410 BCE)
Orestes (408 BCE)
Bacchae (405 BCE, posthumous, first prize) - Steven Clark
Iphigenia at Aulis (405 BCE, posthumous, first prize) - C.W. Gluck
Rhesus (uncertain date)
Cyclops (uncertain date)
Aristophanes (ca. 446-386 BC), son of Philippus, of the deme Cydathenaus, was a prolific and much acclaimed comic playwright of ancient Athens. 11 of his 40 plays survive virtually complete. These, together with fragments of some of his other plays, provide us with the only real examples we have of a genre of comic drama known as Old Comedy, and they are in fact used to define the genre.
Also known as the Father of Comedy and the Prince of Ancient Comedy, Aristophanes has been said to recreate the life of ancient Athens more convincingly than any other author.
His powers of ridicule were feared and acknowledged by influential contemporaries - Platosingled out Aristophanes's play The Clouds as slander contributing to the trial and execution of Socrates although other satirical playwrights had caricatured the philosopher. The demagogue Cleon once prosecuted Aristophanes for slandering the Athenian polis with his second play The Babylonians (now lost). Details of his trial and punishment are not recorded but Aristophanes replied with merciless caricatures of Cleon in his subsequent plays, especially The Knights.
"In my opinion," he says through the Chorus in that play, "producing comedies is the hardest work of all."
Less is known about Aristophanes than about his plays. In fact, his plays are the main source of information about him. It was conventional in Old Comedy for the Chorus to speak on behalf of the author during an address called the 'parabasis' and thus some biographical facts can be got 'straight from the horse's mouth', so to speak. However, these facts relate almost entirely to his career as a dramatist and the plays contain few clear and unambiguous clues about his personal beliefs or his private life.
He was a comic poet in an age when it was conventional for a poet to assume the role of 'teacher' (didaskalos), and though this specifically referred to his training of the Chorus in rehearsal, it also covered his relationship with the audience as a commentator on significant issues.
Aristophanes claimed to be writing for a clever and discerning audience, yet he also declared that "other times" would judge the audience according to its reception of his plays.
He sometimes boasts of his originality as a dramatist yet his plays consistently espouse opposition to radical new influences in Athenian society. He caricatured leading figures in the arts (notably Euripides, whose influence on his own work however he once begrudgingly acknowledged), in politics (especially the populist Cleon), and in philosophy/religion (where Socrates was the most obvious target). Such caricatures seem to imply that Aristophanes was an old-fashioned conservative, yet that view of him leads to contradictions.
The writing of plays was a craft that could be handed down from father to son, and it has been argued that Aristophanes produced plays mainly to entertain the audience and to win prestigious competitions.
The plays were written for production at the great dramatic festivals of Athens, the Lenaia and City Dionysia, where they were judged and awarded places relative to the works of other comic dramatists. An elaborate series of lotteries, designed to prevent prejudice and corruption, reduced the voting judges at the City Dionysia to just five in number. These judges probably reflected the mood of the audiences yet there is much uncertainty about the composition of those audiences.
They were certainly huge, with seating for at least 10,000 at the Theatre of Dionysus, but it is not certain that they were a representative sample of the Athenian citizenry. The day's program at the City Dionysia for example was crowded, with three tragedies and a 'satyr' play ahead of the comedy, and it is possible that many of the poorer citizens (typically the main supporters of demagogues like Cleon) occupied the festival holiday with other pursuits. (Those inhabitants who were not citizens, such as slaves, were also excluded from the audience.) The conservative views expressed in the plays might therefore reflect the attitudes of a dominant group in an unrepresentative audience. The production process might also have influenced the views expressed in the plays. Throughout most of Aristophanes's career, the Chorus was essential to a play's success and it was recruited and funded by a choregus, a wealthy citizen appointed to the task by one of the archons. A choregus could regard his personal expenditure on the Chorus as a civic duty and a public honour, but Aristophanes showed in The Knights that wealthy citizens could regard civic responsibilities as punishment imposed on them by demagogues and populists like Cleon.
Thus the political conservatism of the plays might reflect the views of the choregus, on whose generosity the dramatist depended for the success of his play.
When Aristophanes's first play The Banqueters was produced, Athens was an ambitious, imperial power and The Peloponnesian War was only in its fourth year. His plays often express pride in the achievement of the older generation (the victors at Marathon) yet they are not jingoistic and they are staunchly opposed to the war with Sparta. The plays are particularly scathing in criticism of war profiteers, among whom populists such as Cleon figure prominently.
By the time his last play was produced (around 386 BC) Athens had been defeated in war, its empire had been dismantled and it had undergone a transformation from the political to the intellectual centre of Greece.
Aristophanes was part of this transformation and he shared in the intellectual fashions of the period - the structure of his plays evolves from Old Comedy until, in his last surviving play, Wealth II, it more closely resembles New Comedy. However it is uncertain whether he led or merely responded to changes in audience expectations.
Aristophanes won second prize at the City Dionysia in 427 BC with his first play The Banqueters (now lost). He won first prize there with his next play, The Babylonians (also lost). It was usual for foreign dignitaries to attend the City Dionysia ,and The Babylonians caused some embarrassment for the Athenian authorities since it depicted the cities of the Athenian League as slaves grinding at a mill.
Some influential citizens, notably Cleon, subsequently sought to prosecute the young dramatist on a charge of slandering the polis. The details of the trial are unrecorded but, speaking through the hero of his third play The Acharnians (staged at the Lenaia, where there were few or no foreign dignitaries), he carefully distinguishes between the polis and the real targets of his acerbic wit:
People among us, and I don't mean the polis,
Remember this - I don't mean the polis -
But wicked little men of a counterfeit kind....
Aristophanes repeatedly savages Cleon in his later plays. But these satirical diatribes appear to have had no effect on Cleon's political career - a few weeks after the performance of The Knights, a play full of anti-Cleon jokes, Cleon was elected to the prestigious board of ten generals.
Cleon also seems to have had no real power to limit or control Aristophanes: the caricatures of him continued up to and even beyond his death.
In the absence of clear biographical facts about Aristophanes, scholars make educated guesses based on interpretation of the language in the plays. Inscriptions and summaries or comments by Hellenistic and Byzantine scholars can also provide useful clues. Comments made by the Chorus on behalf of Aristophanes in The Clouds have been interpreted as evidence that he can have been hardly more than 18 years old when his first play The Banqueters was produced.
The second parabasis in Wasps appears to indicate that he reached some kind of temporary accommodation with Cleon, possibly following his prosecution for The Babylonians or perhaps after a subsequent attack by Cleon in response to The Knights.
The hero in The Acharnians complains about Cleon "dragging me into court" over "last year's play"] and this could indicate that Aristophanes acted that part in the play's performance at The Lenaia. It has been inferred from statements in The Clouds and Peace that Aristophanes was prematurely bald, and from statements in The Acharnians that he had some kind of close, personal association with the island of Aegina.
We know from comments in The Knights and The Clouds that his first three plays were not produced in his own name. They were instead produced in the names of Callistratus and Philoneides, an arrangement that seemed to suit Aristophanes since Philoneides later produced The Frogs.
It is also known that Aristophanes was probably victorious at least once at the City Dionysia (with Babylonians in 427) and at least three times at the Lenaia, with Acharnians (425), Knights (424), and Frogs (405). The latter in fact won the unique distinction of a repeat performance at a subsequent festival. We know that a son of Aristophanes, Araros, was also a comic poet and he could have been heavily involved in the production of his father's play Wealth II in 388.
Plato's Symposium appears to be a useful source of biographical information about Aristophanes, although its reliability is debatable.
Symposium purports to be a record of conversations at a dinner party at which both Aristophanes and Socrates are guests. The party is supposed to have occurred some seven years after the performance of The Clouds (the play in which Socrates was cruelly caricatured) and yet there is no indication of any ill-feeling between the dramatist and the philosopher. Plato's Aristophanes is in fact a genial character and this has been interpreted as evidence of Plato's own friendship with him (their friendship appears to be corroborated by an epitaph for Aristophanes, reputedly written by Plato, in which the playwright's soul is compared to an eternal shrine for the Graces).
Plato was only a boy when the events in The Symposium are supposed to have occurred and it is possible that his Aristophanes is in fact based on a reading of the plays. For example, conversation among the guests turns to the subject of Love and Aristophanes explains his notion of it in terms of an amusing allegory, a device he often uses in his plays. He is represented as suffering an attack of hiccoughs and this might be a humorous reference to the crude physical jokes in his plays. He tells the other guests that he is quite happy to be thought amusing but he is wary of appearing ridiculous.
This fear of being ridiculed is consistent with his declaration in The Knights that he embarked on a career of comic playwright warily after witnessing the public contempt and ridicule that other dramatists had incurred.
Aristophanes survived The Peloponnesian War, two oligarchic revolutions and two democratic restorations; this has been interpreted as evidence that he was not actively involved in politics despite his highly political plays.
He was probably appointed to the Council of Five Hundred for a year at the beginning of the fourth century but such appointments were very common in democratic Athens.
Socrates, in the trial leading up to his own death, put the issue of a personal conscience in those troubled times quite succinctly:
The Greek word for 'comedy' (kōmōidía) derives from the words for 'revel' and 'song' (kōmos and ōdē) and according to Aristotle comic drama actually developed from song. The first, official comedy at the City Dionysia was not staged until 487/6 BC, by which time tragedy had already been long established there. The first comedy at the Lenaia was staged later still, only about 20 years before the performance there of The Acharnians, the first of Aristophanes' surviving plays. According to Aristotle, comedy was slow to gain official acceptance because nobody took it seriously yet, only 60 years after comedy first appeared at 'The City Dionysia', Aristophanes observed that producing comedies was the most difficult work of all.
Competition at the Dionysian festivals needed dramatic conventions for plays to be judged, but it also fuelled innovations.
The Lenaia and City Dionysia were religious festivals, but they resembled a gala rather than a church service.
Dirty jokes: A relaxation in standards of behaviour was permitted and the holiday spirit included bawdy irreverence towards both men and gods.
Old Comedy is rich in obscenities and the crude jokes are often very detailed, as when the Chorus in The Acharnians places a curse on Antimachus, a choregus accused of niggardly conduct, wishing upon him a night-time mugging as he returns home from some drunken party and envisioning him, as he stoops down to pick up a rock in the darkness, accidentally picking up a fresh turd instead. He is then envisioned hurling the turd at his attacker, missing and accidentally hitting Cratinus, a lyric poet not admired by Aristophanes.
This was particularly funny because the curse was sung (or chanted) in choreographed style by a Chorus of 24 grown men who were known to the audience as respectable citizens.
The structural elements of a typical Aristophanic plot can be summarized as follows:
Prologue - an introductory scene with a dialogue and/or soliloquy addressed to the audience, expressed in iambic trimeter and explaining the situation that is to be resolved in the play;
Parodos - the arrival of the chorus, dancing and singing, sometimes followed by a choreographed skirmish with one or more actors, often expressed in tetrameters;
Parabasis - verses through which the Chorus addresses the audience directly, firstly in the middle of the play and again near the end (see the section below Parabasis);
Agon - a formal debate that decides the outcome of the play, typically in anapestic tetrameter, though iambs are sometimes used to delineate inferior arguments;
Symmetrical scenes - passages featuring songs and declaimed verses in tetrameters, arranged symmetrically in two sections such that each half resembles the other in meter and line length; the agon and parabasis can be considered specific instances of symmetrical scenes;
Episodes - sections of dialogue in iambic trimeter, often in a succession of scenes featuring minor characters towards the end of a play;
Songs ('strophes'/'antistrophes' or 'odes'/'antodes') - often in symmetrical pairs where each half has the same meter and number of lines as the other, used as transitions between other structural elements, or between scenes while actors change costume, and often commenting on the action;
Exodus - the departure of the Chorus and the actors, in song and dance celebrating the hero's victory and sometimes celebrating a symbolic marriage.
The rules of competition did not prevent a playwright arranging and adjusting these elements to suit his particular needs.
In The Acharnians, for example, there is no formal agon whereas in The Clouds there are two agons.
The parabasis is an address to the audience by the Chorus and/or the leader of the Chorus while the actors are leaving or have left the stage. The Chorus in this role speaks sometimes out of character, as the author's mouthpiece, and sometimes in character, but very often it isn't easy to distinguish its two roles. Generally the parabasis occurs somewhere in the middle of a play and often there is a second parabasis towards the end. The elements of a parabasis have been defined and named by scholars but it is probable that Aristophanes' own understanding was less formal.
The selection of elements can vary from play to play and it varies considerably within plays between first and second parabasis. The early plays (The Acharnians to The Birds) are fairly uniform in their approach however and the following elements of a parabasis can be found within them.
Kommation: This is a brief prelude, comprising short lines and often including a valediction to the departing actors, such as ἴτε χαίροντες (Go rejoicing!).
Parabasis proper: This is a usually a defense of the author's work and it includes criticism of the audience's attitude. It is declaimed in long lines of "anapestic tetrameters." Aristophanes himself refers to the parabasis proper only as "anapests."
Among the devices of Aristophanes's comedy is the routine of the "pnigos," sometimes known as "a choker," comprising a few short lines appended to the parabasis as a kind of rapid patter. It has been suggested that some of the effects achieved in a pnigos can be heard in Italian operas such as Giacomo Rossini's The Barber of Seville (Largo al factotum) and Sullivan's Iolante (The Lord Chancellor's Nightmare Song) and The Pirates of Penzance (Modern Major General).
Epirrhematic Syzygies: These are symmetrical scenes that mirror each other in meter and number of lines. They form part of the first parabasis and they often comprise the entire second parabasis. They are characterized by the following elements:
Strophe or Ode: These are lyrics in a variety of meters, sung by the Chorus in the first parabasis as an invocation to the gods and as a comic interlude in the second parabasis.
Epirrhema: These are usually long lines of trochaic tetrameters. Broadly political in their significance, they were probably spoken by the leader of the Chorus in character.
antistrophe or antode: These are songs that mirror the strophe/ode in meter, length and function.
Antepirrhema. This is another declaimed passage and it mirrors the epirrhema in meter, length and function.
The Wasps is thought to offer the best example of a conventional approach
The tragic dramatists, Sophocles and Euripides, died near the end of the Peloponnesian War and the art of tragedy thereafter ceased to develop, yet comedy did continue to develop after the defeat of Athens and it is possible that it did so because, in Aristophanes, it had a master craftsman who lived long enough to help usher it into a new age.
Aristophanes seems to have had some appreciation of his formative role in the development of comedy, as indicated by his comment in Clouds that his audience would be judged by other times according to its reception of his plays.
Clouds was awarded third (i.e. last) place after its original performance and the text that has come down to the modern age was a subsequent draft that Aristophanes intended to be read rather than acted.
The circulation of his plays in manuscript extended their influence beyond the original audience, over whom in fact they seem to have had no practical influence at all. The plays did not affect the career of Cleon, they failed to persuade the Athenians to pursue an honourable peace with Sparta and they were not instrumental in the trial and execution of Socrates, whose death probably resulted from public animosity towards the philosopher's disgraced associates (such as Alcibiades), exacerbated of course by his own intransigence during the trial.
The plays, in manuscript form, have been put to some surprising uses - as indicated earlier, they were used in the study of rhetoric on the recommendation of Quintilian and by students of the Attic dialect in the Fourth and Fifth Centuries AD. It is possible that Plato sent copies of the plays to Dionysius of Syracuse so that he might learn about Athenian life and government.
The plays have a significance that goes beyond their artistic function, as historical documents that open the window on life and politics in classical Athens, in which respect they are perhaps as important as the writings of Thucydides. The artistic influence of the plays is immeasurable.
Music inspired by Aristophanes includes
1909: Wasps, original Greek, Cambridge University undergraduate production, music by Vaughan Williams;
2004, July-October: The Frogs (musical), adapted by Nathan Lane, music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, performed at The Vivian Beaumont Theatre Broadway;
The Acharnians (425 BC)
The Knights (424 BC)
The Clouds (original 423 BC, uncompleted revised version from 419 BC – 416 BC survives)
The Wasps (422 BC)
Peace (first version, 421 BC)
The Birds (414 BC)
Lysistrata (411 BC)
Thesmophoriazusae or The Women Celebrating the Thesmophoria (first version, c. 411 BC)
The Frogs (405 BC)
Ecclesiazusae or The Assemblywomen (c. 392 BC)
Wealth (second version, 388 BC)
Plato (428/427 BC - 348/347 BC) was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the foundations of natural philosophy, science, and Western philosophy.
He was originally a student of Socrates, and was as much influenced by his thinking as by what he saw as his teacher's unjust death.
Plato's sophistication as a writer is evident in his Socratic dialogues; 35 dialogues and 13 letters have been ascribed to him. Plato's writings have been published in several fashions; this has led to several conventions regarding the naming and referencing of Plato's texts.
Although there is little question that Plato lectured at the Academy that he founded, the pedagogical function of his dialogues, if any, is not known with certainty. The dialogues since Plato's time have been used to teach a range of subjects, including philosophy, logic, rhetoric, mathematics, and other subjects about which he wrote.
Plato on Music
Second-rate and commonplace people, being too uneducated to entertain themselves as they drink by using their own voices and conversational resources, put up the price of female musicians, paying them well for the hire of an extraneous voice - that of the pipe - and find their entertainment in its warblings. But where the drinkers are men of worth and culture, you will find no girls piping or dancing or harping. They are quite capable of enjoying their own company without such frivolous nonsense, using their own voices in sober discussion and each taking his turn to speak or listen - even if the drinking is really heavy.
Our music was formally divided into several kinds and patterns. One kind of song, which went by the name of a hymn, consisted of prayers to the gods; there was a second and contrasting kind which might well have been called a lament; paeans were a third kind, and there was a forth, the dithyramb, as it was called, dealing, if I am not mistaken, with the birth of Dionysus. Now these and other types were definitely fixed, and it was not permissible to misuse one kind of melody for another. The competence to take cognizance of these rules, to pass verdicts in accord with them, and, in case of need, to penalize their infraction was not left, as it is today, to the catcalls and discordant outcries of the crowd, nor yet to the clapping of applauders; the educated made it their rule to hear the performances through in silence, and for the boys, their attendants, and the rabble at large, there was the discipline of the official’s rod to enforce order. Thus the bulk of the populace was content to submit to this strict control in such matters without venturing to pronounce judgment by its clamors.
Afterward, in course of time, an unmusical license set in with the appearance of poets who were men a native genius, but ignorant of what is right and legitimate in the realm of the Muses. Possessed by a frantic and unhallowed lust for pleasure, they contaminated laments with hymns and paeans with dithyrambs, actually imitated the strains of the flute on the harp, and created a universal confusion of forms. Thus their folly led them unintentionally to slander their profession by the assumption that in music there is no such thing as a right and a wrong, the right standard of judgment being the pleasure given to the hearer, be he high or low. By compositions of such a kind and discourse to the same effect, they naturally inspired the multitude with contempt of musical law, and a conceit of their own competence as judges. Thus our once silent audiences have found a voice, in the persuasion that they understand what is good and bad in art; the old “sovereignty of the best” in that sphere has given way to an evil “sovereignty of the audience.” If the consequence had been even a democracy, no great harm would have been done, so long as the democracy was confined to art, and composed of free men. But, as things are with us, music has given occasion to a general conceit of universal knowledge and contempt for law, and liberty has followed in their train. Fear was cast out by confidence in supposed knowledge, and the loss of it gave birth to impudence. For to be unconcerned for the judgment of one’s betters in the assurance which comes of a reckless excess of liberty is nothing in the world but reprehensible impudence.
So the next stage of the journey toward liberty will be refusal to submit to magistrates, and on this will follow emancipation from the authority and correction of parents and elders; then, as the goal of the race is approached, comes the effort to escape obedience to the law, and, when that goal is all but reached, contempt for oaths, for the plighted word, and all religion. The spectacle of the Titanic nature of which our old legends speak is reenacted; man returns to the old condition of a hell of unending misery.
The overseers must be watchful against its insensible corruption. They must throughout be watchful against innovations in music and gymnastics counter to the established order, and to the best of their power guard against them, fearing when anyone says that that song is most regarded among men “which hovers newest on the singer’s lips” [Odyssey i. 351], lest it be supposed that the poet means not new songs but a new way of song and is commending this. But we must not praise that sort of thing nor conceive it to be the poet’s meaning. For a change to a new type of music is something to beware of as a hazard of all our fortunes. For the modes of music are never disturbed without unsettling of the most fundamental political and social conventions.
We said we did not require dirges and lamentations in words.
We do not.
What, then, are the dirge-like modes of music? Tell me, for you are a musician.
The mixed Lydian, he said, and the tense or higher Lydian, and similar modes.
These, then, said I, we must do away with. But again, drunkenness is a thing most unbefitting guardians, and so is softness and sloth.
What, then, are the soft and convivial modes?
There are certain Ionian and also Lydian modes that are called lax.
Will you make any use of them for warriors?
None at all, he said, but it would seem that you have left the Dorian and the Phrygian.
I don’t know the musical modes, I said, but leave us the mode that would fittingly imitate the utterances and the accents of a brave man who is engaged in warfare or in any enforced business, and who, when he has failed, either meeting wounds or death or having fallen into some other mishap, in all these conditions confronts fortune with steadfast endurance and repels her strokes. And another for such a man engaged in works of peace, not enforced but voluntary, either trying to persuade somebody of something and imploring him - whether it be a god, through prayer, or a man, by teaching and admonition - or contrariwise yielding himself to another who is petitioning him or teaching him or trying to change his opinions, and in consequence faring according to his wish, and not bearing himself arrogantly, but in all this acting modestly and moderately and acquiescing in the outcome. Leave us these two modes - the enforced and the voluntary - that will best imitate the utterances of men failing or succeeding, the temperate, the brave - leave us these.
Well, said he, you are asking me to leave none other than those I just spoke of.
The sight in my opinion is the source of the greatest benefit to us, for had we never seen the stars and the sun and the heaven, none of the words which we have spoken about the universe would ever have been uttered. But now the site of day and night, and the months and the revolutions of the years have created number and have given us a conception of time, and the power of inquiring about the nature of the universe. And from this source we have derived philosophy, than which no greater good ever was or will be given by the gods to mortal man. This is the greatest boon of sight, and of the lesser benefits why should I speak? Even the ordinary man if he were deprived of them would bewail his loss, but in vain. This much let me say however. God invented and gave us sight to the end that we might behold the courses of intelligence in the heaven, and apply them to the courses of our own intelligence which are akin to them, the unperturbed to the perturbed, and that we, learning them and partaking of the natural truth of reason, might imitate the absolutely unerring courses of God and regulate our own vagaries. The same may be affirmed to speech and hearing. They have been given by the gods to the same end and for a like reason. For this is the principal end of speech, whereto it most contributes. Moreover, so much of music as is adapted to the sound of the voice and to the sense of hearing is granted to us for the sake of harmony. And harmony, which has motions akin to the revolutions of our souls, is not regarded by the intelligent votary of the Muses as given by them with a view to irrational pleasure, which is deemed to be the purpose of it in our day, but as meant to correct any discord which may have arisen in the courses of the soul, and to be our ally in bringing her to harmony and agreement with herself, and rhythm too was given by them for the same reason, on account of the irregular and graceless ways which prevail among mankind generally, and to help us against them.
Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC) was a Greek philosopher, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology. Together with Plato and Socrates (Plato's teacher), Aristotle is one of the most important founding figures in Western philosophy. Aristotle's writings constitute a first at creating a comprehensive system of Western philosophy, encompassing morality and aesthetics, logic and science, politics and metaphysics.
Aristotle's views on the physical sciences profoundly shaped medieval scholarship, and their influence extended well into the Renaissance, although they were ultimately replaced by Newtonian physics. In the biological sciences, some of his observations were confirmed to be accurate only in the 19th Century. His works contain the earliest known formal study of logic, which was incorporated in the late nineteenth century into modern formal logic.
In metaphysics, Aristotelianism had a profound influence on philosophical and theological thinking in the Islamic and Jewish traditions in the Middle Ages, and it continues to influence Christian theology, especially Eastern Orthodox theology, and the scholastic tradition of the Catholic Church. His ethics, though always influential, gained renewed interest with the modern advent of virtue ethics. All aspects of Aristotle's philosophy continue to be the object of active academic study today. Though Aristotle wrote many elegant treatises and dialogues (Cicero described his literary style as "a river of gold"), it is thought that the majority of his writings are now lost and only about one-third of the original works have survived.
Despite the far-reaching appeal that Aristotle's works have traditionally enjoyed, today modern scholarship questions a substantial portion of the Aristotelian corpus as authentically Aristotle's own.
Aristotle considered epic poetry, tragedy, comedy, dithyrambic poetry and music to be imitative, each varying in imitation by medium, object, and manner.
For example, music imitates with the media of rhythm and harmony, whereas dance imitates with rhythm alone, and poetry with language. The forms also differ in their object of imitation.
Comedy, for instance, is a dramatic imitation of men worse than average; whereas tragedy imitates men slightly better than average. Lastly, the forms differ in their manner of imitation – through narrative or character, through change or no change, and through drama or no drama.
Aristotle believed that imitation is natural to mankind and constitutes one of mankind's advantages over animals.
While it is believed that Aristotle's Poetics comprised two books -- one on comedy and one on tragedy -- only the portion that focuses on tragedy has survived. Aristotle taught that tragedy is composed of six elements: plot-structure, character, style, spectacle, and lyric poetry.
The characters in a tragedy are merely a means of driving the story; and the plot, not the characters, is the chief focus of tragedy. Tragedy is the imitation of action arousing pity and fear, and is meant to effect the catharsis of those same emotions. Aristotle concludes Poetics with a discussion on which, if either, is superior: epic or tragic mimesis. He suggests that because tragedy possesses all the attributes of an epic, possibly possesses additional attributes such as spectacle and music, is more unified, and achieves the aim of its mimesis in shorter scope, it can be considered superior to epic.
Aristotle was a keen systematic collector of riddles, folklore, and proverbs; he and his school had a special interest in the riddles of the Delphic Oracle and studied the fables of Aesop.
Aristotle's Poetics (c. 335 BC) is the earliest-surviving work of dramatic theory and the first extant philosophical treatise to focus on literary theory.
In it, Aristotle offers an account of what he calls "poetry" (a term which in Greek literally meant "making" and in this context includes drama -- comedy, tragedy, and the satyr play -- as well as lyric poetry, epic poetry, and the dithyramb). He examines its "first principles" and identifies its genres and basic elements; his analysis of tragedy constitutes the core of the discussion.
"Although Aristotle's Poetics is universally acknowledged in the Western critical tradition," Marvin Carlson explains, "almost every detail about his seminal work has aroused divergent opinions."
Mimesis or "imitation," "representation"
Catharsis or, variously, "purgation," "purification," "clarification"
Peripeteia or "reversal"
Anagnorisis or "recognition," "identification"
Hamartia or "miscalculation" (understood in Romanticism as "tragic flaw")
Mythos or "plot"
Ethos or "character"
Dianoia or "thought," "theme"
Lexis or "diction," "speech"
Melos or "melody"
Opsis or "spectacle"
Aristotle's work on aesthetics consists of the Poetics and Rhetoric. The Poetics is specifically concerned with drama. At some point, Aristotle's original work was divided in two, each "book" written on a separate roll of papyrus.
Only the first part—that which focuses on tragedy—survives. The lost second part addressed comedy.
Scholars speculate that the Tractatus coislinianus summarises the contents of the lost second book.
Aristotle distinguishes between the genres of "poetry" in three ways:
1. their means
language, rhythm, and harmony, used separately or in combination
2. their objects
a. agents ("good" or "bad" ...) - human characters who have emotions (and bring moral to actions they do - "good" person kills child = remorse? X "bad" person kills child = just shows his power?) or things of daily life (skull in Hamlet, cake in slapstick comedies...) who have no emotions (humans put emotions on things - girl's father is killed by sword, girl hates swords) ...
b. actions ("virtuous" or "vicious" ...) - agents cause and are influenced by actions
3. their modes of representation
Having examined briefly the field of "poetry" in general, Aristotle proceeds to his definition of tragedy:
Tragedy is a representation of a serious, complete action which has magnitude, in embellished speech, with each of its elements [used] separately in the [various] parts [of the play]; [represented] by people acting and not by narration; accomplishing by means of pity and terror the catharsis of such emotions.
By "embellished speech", I mean that which has rhythm and melody, i.e. song; by "with its elements separately", I mean that some [parts of it] are accomplished only by means of spoken verses, and others again by means of song (1449b25-30).
Tragedy consists of six parts, he explains:
1. Plot (mythos)
Key elements of the plot are reversals, recognitions and suffering. The best plot should be "complex". It should imitate actions arousing horror, fear and pity.
When a character is unfortunate by reversal(s) of fortune (peripeteia), at first he suffers (pathos) and then he can realize (anagnorisis) the cause of his misery or a way to be released from the misery.
Plot should be more convoluted ("complex"), so audience can learn about what is possible in a world (Aristotle stated, that "best" tragedy is based on real events which people know are possible; note, that people also "nitpick" little "mistakes" in such story more); when plot is not "very" convoluted (audience may be young and they might not keep track of events ...), it should have at least interesting characters or thoughts (so audience is not "bored")
2. Character (ethos)
It is much better if a tragical accident happens to a hero because of a mistake he makes (hamartia) instead of things which might happen anyway. That is because the audience is more likely to be "moved" by it. A hero may have made it knowingly (in Medea) or unknowingly (Oedipus). A hero may leave a deed undone (due to timely discovery, knowledge present at the point of doing deed ...).
Main character should be
good - Aristotle explains that audiences do not like, for example, villains "making fortune from misery" in the end; it might happen though, and might make play interesting, nevertheless the moral is at stake here and morals are important to make people happy (people can, for example, see tragedy because they want to release their anger)
appropriate - if a character is supposed to be wise, it is unlikely he is young (supposing wisdom is gained with age)
consistent - if a person is a soldier, he is unlikely to be scared of blood (if this soldier is scared of blood it must be explained and play some role in the story to avoid confusing the audience); it is also "good" if a character doesn't change opinion "that much" if the play is not "driven" by who characters are, but by what they do (audience is confused in case of unexpected shifts in behaviour [and its reasons, morals ...] of characters)
"consistently inconsistent" - if a character always behaves foolishly it is strange if he suddenly becomes smart; in this case it would be good to explain such change, otherwise the audience may be confused ; also if character changes opinion a lot it should be clear he is a character who has this trait, not real life person, who does - this is also to avoid confusion
3. Theme / Thought (dianoia) - spoken (usually) reasoning of human characters can explain the characters or story background ...
4. Diction (lexis)
5. Melody (melos)
For example: if there is too much sadness or too little of main character (hero) in story :
audience may not like "too much" grief (it may "easily" become, as they say, pathetic) or can be confused who is main hero and who isn't
6. Spectacle (opsis)
For example: if play has "beautiful" costumes and "bad" acting and "bad" story, there is "something wrong" with it. Even though that "beauty" may save the play it is "not a nice thing."
He offers the earliest-surviving explanation for the origins of tragedy and comedy:
Anyway, arising from an improvisatory beginning (both tragedy and comedy -- tragedy from the leaders of the dithyramb, and comedy from the leaders of the phallic processions which even now continue as a custom in many of our cities)
Poetics was not influential in its time and was generally understood to coincide with the more famous Rhetoric. This is because in Aristotle's time, rhetoric and poetry were not as separated as they later became and were in a sense different versions of the same thing. It was not until much later that The Poetics became hugely influential.
The Arabic version of Aristotle’s Poetics that influenced the Middle Ages was translated from a Greek manuscript dating from before the year 700. This manuscript was translated from Greek to Syriac and is independent of the currently-accepted 11th-century source designated Paris 1741. The Syriac language source used for the Arabic translations departed widely in vocabulary from the original Poetics and it initiated a misinterpretation of Aristotelian thought that continued through the Middle Ages.
There are two different Arabic interpretations of Aristotle’s Poetics in commentaries by Abu Nasr al-Farabi and Averroes (i.e., Abu al-Walid Ibn Rushd).
Al-Farabi’s treatise endeavors to establish poetry as a logical faculty of expression, giving it validity in the Islamic world. Averroes’ commentary attempts to harmonize his assessment of the Poetics with al-Farabi’s, but he is ultimately unable to reconcile his ascription of moral purpose to poetry with al-Farabi’s logical interpretation.
Averroes's interpretation of the Poetics was accepted by the West because of its relevance to their humanistic viewpoints; occasionally the philosophers of the Middle Ages even preferred this latter commentary to Aristotle's stated sense. This resulted in the survival of Aristotle’s Poetics through the Arabic literary tradition.
Aristotle on Music
POLITICS BOOK VIII, chap. 5-7
With respect to music we have already spoken a little in a doubtful manner upon this subject. It will be proper to go over again more particularly what we then said, which may serve as an introduction to what any other person may choose to offer thereon; for it is no easy matter to distinctly point out what power it has, nor on what accounts one should apply it, whether as an amusement and refreshment, as sleep or wine; as these are nothing serious, but pleasing, and the killers of care, as Euripides says; for which reason they class in the same order and use for the same purpose all these, namely, sleep, wine, and music, to which some add dancing; or shall we rather suppose that music tends to be productive of virtue, having a power, as the gymnastic exercises have to form the body in a certain way, to influence the manners so as to accustom its professors to rejoice rightly? or shall we say, that it is of any service in the conduct of life, and an assistant to prudence? for this also is a third property which has been attributed to it.
Now that boys are not to be instructed in it as play is evident; for those who learn don't play, for to learn is rather troublesome; neither is it proper to permit boys at their age to enjoy perfect leisure; for to cease to improve is by no means fit for what is as yet imperfect; but it may be thought that the earnest attention of boys in this art is for the sake of that amusement they will enjoy when they come to be men and completely formed; but, if this is the case, why are they themselves to learn it, and not follow the practice of the kings of the Medes and Persians, who enjoy the pleasure of music by hearing others play, and being shown its beauties by them; for of necessity those must be better skilled therein who make this science their particular study and business, than those who have only spent so much time at it as was sufficient just to learn the principles of it. But if this is a reason for a child's being taught anything, they ought also to learn the art of cookery, but this is absurd.
The same doubt occurs if music has a power of improving the manners; for why should they on this account themselves learn it, and not reap every advantage of regulating the passions or forming a judgment [1339b] on the merits of the performance by hearing others, as the Lacedaemonians; for they, without having ever learnt music, are yet able to judge accurately what is good and what is bad; the same reasoning may be applied if music is supposed to be the amusement of those who live an elegant and easy life, why should they learn themselves, and not rather enjoy the benefit of others' skill.
Let us here consider what is our belief of the immortal gods in this particular. Now we find the poets never represent Jupiter himself as singing and playing; nay, we ourselves treat the professors of these arts as mean people, and say that no one would practise them but a drunkard or a buffoon. But probably we may consider this subject more at large hereafter.
The first question is, whether music is or is not to make a part of education? and of those three things which have been assigned as its proper employment, which is the right? Is it to instruct, to amuse, or to employ the vacant hours of those who live at rest? or may not all three be properly allotted to it? for it appears to partake of them all; for play is necessary for relaxation, and relaxation pleasant, as it is a medicine for that uneasiness which arises from labour. It is admitted also that a happy life must be an honourable one, and a pleasant one too, since happiness consists in both these; and we all agree that music is one of the most pleasing things, whether alone or accompanied with a voice; as Musseus says, "Music's the sweetest joy of man;" for which reason it is justly admitted into every company and every happy life, as having the power of inspiring joy. So that from this any one may suppose that it is necessary to instruct young persons in it; for all those pleasures which are harmless are not only conducive to the final end of life, but serve also as relaxations; and, as men are but rarely in the attainment of that final end, they often cease from their labour and apply to amusement, with no further view than to acquire the pleasure attending it. It is therefore useful to enjoy such pleasures as these.
There are some persons who make play and amusement their end, and probably that end has some pleasure annexed to it, but not what should be; but while men seek the one they accept the other for it; because there is some likeness in human actions to the end; for the end is pursued for the sake of nothing else that attends it; but for itself only; and pleasures like these are sought for, not on account of what follows them, but on account of what has gone before them, as labour and grief; for which reason they seek for happiness in these sort of pleasures; and that this is the reason any one may easily perceive.
That music should be pursued, not on this account only, but also as it is very serviceable during the hours of relaxation from labour, probably no [1340a] one doubts; we should also inquire whether besides this use it may not also have another of nobler nature--and we ought not only to partake of the common pleasure arising from it (which all have the sensation of, for music naturally gives pleasure, therefore the use of it is agreeable to all ages and all dispositions); but also to examine if it tends anything to improve our manners and our souls. And this will be easily known if we feel our dispositions any way influenced thereby; and that they are so is evident from many other instances, as well as the music at the Olympic games; and this confessedly fills the soul with enthusiasm; but enthusiasm is an affection of the soul which strongly agitates the disposition. Besides, all those who hear any imitations sympathise therewith; and this when they are conveyed even without rhythm or verse.
Moreover, as music is one of those things which are pleasant, and as virtue itself consists in rightly enjoying, loving, and hating, it is evident that we ought not to learn or accustom ourselves to anything so much as to judge right and rejoice in honourable manners and noble actions. But anger and mildness, courage and modesty, and their contraries, as well as all other dispositions of the mind, are most naturally imitated by music and poetry; which is plain by experience, for when we hear these our very soul is altered; and he who is affected either with joy or grief by the imitation of any objects, is in very nearly the same situation as if he was affected by the objects themselves; thus, if any person is pleased with seeing a statue of any one on no other account but its beauty, it is evident that the sight of the original from whence it was taken would also be pleasing; now it happens in the other senses there is no imitation of manners; that is to say, in the touch and the taste; in the objects of sight, a very little; for these are merely representations of things, and the perceptions which they excite are in a manner common to all. Besides, statues and paintings are not properly imitations of manners, but rather signs and marks which show the body is affected by some passion. However, the difference is not great, yet young men ought not to view the paintings of Pauso, but of Polygnotus, or any other painter or statuary who expresses manners.
But in poetry and music there are imitations of manners; and this is evident, for different harmonies differ from each other so much by nature, that those who hear them are differently affected, and are not in the same disposition of mind when one is performed as when another is; the one, for instance, occasions grief 13406 and contracts the soul, as the mixed Lydian: others soften the mind, and as it were dissolve the heart: others fix it in a firm and settled state, such is the power of the Doric music only; while the Phrygian fills the soul with enthusiasm, as has been well described by those who have written philosophically upon this part of education; for they bring examples of what they advance from the things themselves.
The same holds true with respect to rhythm; some fix the disposition, others occasion a change in it; some act more violently, others more liberally. From what has been said it is evident what an influence music has over the disposition of the mind, and how variously it can fascinate it: and if it can do this, most certainly it is what youth ought to be instructed in. And indeed the learning of music is particularly adapted to their disposition; for at their time of life they do not willingly attend to anything which is not agreeable; but music is naturally one of the most agreeable things; and there seems to be a certain connection between harmony and rhythm; for which reason some wise men held the soul itself to be harmony; others, that it contains it.
We will now determine whether it is proper that children should be taught to sing, and play upon any instrument, which we have before made a matter of doubt. Now, it is well known that it makes a great deal of difference when you would qualify any one in any art, for the person himself to learn the practical part of it; for it is a thing very difficult, if not impossible, for a man to be a good judge of what he himself cannot do. It is also very necessary that children should have some employment which will amuse them; for which reason the rattle of Archytas seems well contrived, which they give children to play with, to prevent their breaking those things which are about the house; for at their age they cannot sit still: this therefore is well adapted to infants, as instruction ought to be their rattle as they grow up; hence it is evident that they should be so taught music as to be able to practise it.
Nor is it difficult to say what is becoming or unbecoming of their age, or to answer the objections which some make to this employment as mean and low. In the first place, it is necessary for them to practise, that they may be judges of the art: for which reason this should be done when they are young; but when they are grown older the practical part may be dropped; while they will still continue judges of what is excellent in the art, and take a proper pleasure therein, from the knowledge they acquired of it in their youth.
As to the censure which some persons throw upon music, as something mean and low, it is not difficult to answer that, if we will but consider how far we propose those who are to be educated so as to become good citizens should be instructed in this art, [1341a] and what music and what rhythms they should be acquainted with; and also what instruments they should play upon; for in these there is probably a difference. Such then is the proper answer to that censure: for it must be admitted, that in some cases nothing can prevent music being attended, to a certain degree, with the bad effects which are ascribed to it; it is therefore clear that the learning of it should never prevent the business of riper years; nor render the body effeminate, and unfit for the business of war or the state; but it should be practised by the young, judged of by the old.
That children may learn music properly, it is necessary that they should not be employed in those parts of it which are the objects of dispute between the masters in that science; nor should they perform such pieces as are wondered at from the difficulty of their execution; and which, from being first exhibited in the public games, are now become a part of education; but let them learn so much of it as to be able to receive proper pleasure from excellent music and rhythms; and not that only which music must make all animals feel, and also slaves and boys, but more. It is therefore plain what instruments they should use; thus, they should never be taught to play upon the flute, or any other instrument which requires great skill, as the harp or the like, but on such as will make them good judges of music, or any other instruction: besides, the flute is not a moral instrument, but rather one that will inflame the passions, and is therefore rather to be used when the soul is to be animated than when instruction is intended.
Let me add also, that there is something therein which is quite contrary to what education requires; as the player on the flute is prevented from speaking: for which reason our forefathers very properly forbade the use of it to youth and freemen, though they themselves at first used it; for when their riches procured them greater leisure, they grew more animated in the cause of virtue; and both before and after the Median war their noble actions so exalted their minds that they attended to every part of education; selecting no one in particular, but endeavouring to collect the whole: for which reason they introduced the flute also, as one of the instruments they were to learn to play on. At Lacedaemon the choregus himself played on the flute; and it was so common at Athens that almost every freeman understood it, as is evident from the tablet which Thrasippus dedicated when he was choregus; but afterwards they rejected it as dangerous; having become better judges of what tended to promote virtue and what did not.
For the same reason many of the ancient instruments were thrown aside, as the dulcimer and the lyre; as also those which were to inspire those who played on them with pleasure, and which required a nice finger and great skill to play well on. What the ancients tell us, by way of fable, of the flute is indeed very rational; namely, that after Minerva had found it, she threw it away: nor are they wrong who say that the goddess disliked it for deforming the face of him who played thereon: not but that it is more probable that she rejected it as the knowledge thereof contributed nothing to the improvement of the mind. Now, we regard Minerva as the inventress of arts and sciences.
As we disapprove of a child's being taught to understand instruments, and to play like a master (which we would have confined to those who are candidates for the prize in that science; for they play not to improve themselves in virtue, but to please those who hear them, and gratify their importunity); therefore we think the practice of it unfit for freemen; but then it should be confined to those who are paid for doing it; for it usually gives people sordid notions, for the end they have in view is bad: for the impertinent spectator is accustomed to make them change their music; so that the artists who attend to him regulate their bodies according to his motions.
We are now to enter into an inquiry concerning harmony and rhythm; whether all sorts of these are to be employed in education, or whether some peculiar ones are to be selected; and also whether we should give the same directions to those who are engaged in music as part of education, or whether there is something different from these two. Now, as all music consists in melody and rhythm, we ought not to be unacquainted with the power which each of these has in education; and whether we should rather choose music in which melody prevails, or rhythm: but when I consider how many things have been well written upon these subjects, not only by some musicians of the present age, but also by some philosophers who are perfectly skilled in that part of music which belongs to education; we will refer those who desire a very particular knowledge therein to those writers, and shall only treat of it in general terms, without descending to particulars.
Melody is divided by some philosophers, whose notions we approve of, into moral, practical, and that which fills the mind with enthusiasm: they also allot to each of these a particular kind of harmony which naturally corresponds therewith: and we say that music should not be applied to one purpose only, but many; both for instruction and purifying the soul (now I use the word purifying at present without any explanation, but shall speak more at large of it in my Poetics); and, in the third place, as an agreeable manner of spending the time and a relaxation from the uneasiness of the mind. [1342a] It is evident that all harmonies are to be used; but not for all purposes; but the most moral in education: but to please the ear, when others play, the most active and enthusiastic; for that passion which is to be found very strong in some souls is to be met with also in all; but the difference in different persons consists in its being in a less or greater degree, as pity, fear, and enthusiasm also; which latter is so powerful in some as to overpower the soul: and yet we see those persons, by the application of sacred music to soothe their mind, rendered as sedate and composed as if they had employed the art of the physician: and this must necessarily happen to the compassionate, the fearful, and all those who are subdued by their passions: nay, all persons, as far as they are affected with those passions, admit of the same cure, and are restored to tranquillity with pleasure.
In the same manner, all music which has the power of purifying the soul affords a harmless pleasure to man. Such, therefore, should be the harmony and such the music which those who contend with each other in the theatre should exhibit: but as the audience is composed of two sorts of people, the free and the well-instructed, the rude the mean mechanics, and hired servants, and a long collection of the like, there must be some music and some spectacles to please and soothe them; for as their minds are as it were perverted from their natural habits, so also is there an unnatural harmony, and overcharged music which is accommodated to their taste: but what is according to nature gives pleasure to every one, therefore those who are to contend upon the theatre should be allowed to use this species of music. But in education ethic melody and ethic harmony should be used, which is the Doric, as we have already said, or any other which those philosophers who are skilful in that music which is to be employed in education shall approve of. But Socrates, in Plato's Republic, is very wrong when he [1342b] permits only the Phrygian music to be used as well as the Doric, particularly as amongst other instruments he banishes the flute; for the Phrygian music has the same power in harmony as the flute has amongst the instruments; for they are both pathetic and raise the mind: and this the practice of the poets proves; for in their bacchanal songs, or whenever they describe any violent emotions of the mind, the flute is the instrument they chiefly use: and the Phrygian harmony is most suitable to these subjects.
Now, that the dithyrambic measure is Phrygian is allowed by general consent; and those who are conversant in studies of this sort bring many proofs of it; as, for instance, when Philoxenus endeavoured to compose dithyrambic music for Doric harmony, he naturally fell back again into Phrygian, as being fittest for that purpose; as every one indeed agrees, that the Doric music is most serious, and fittest to inspire courage: and, as we always commend the middle as being between the two extremes, and the Doric has this relation with respect to other harmonies, it is evident that is what the youth ought to be instructed in. There are two things to be taken into consideration, both what is possible and what is proper; every one then should chiefly endeavour to attain those things which contain both these qualities: but this is to be regulated by different times of life; for instance, it is not easy for those who are advanced in years to sing such pieces of music as require very high notes, for nature points out to them those which are gentle and require little strength of voice (for which reason some who are skilful in music justly find fault with Socrates for forbidding the youth to be instructed in gentle harmony; as if, like wine, it would make them drunk, whereas the effect of that is to render men bacchanals, and not make them languid): these therefore are what should employ those who are grown old. Moreover, if there is any harmony which is proper for a child's age, as being at the same time elegant and instructive, as the Lydian of all others seems chiefly to be-These then are as it were the three boundaries of education, moderation, possibility, and decorum.
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